So there I am, crouching behind a fallen tree in my full Raven Warrior get-up, beside a little-used path in the Berowra Valley bush reserve. I hear voices, but they're not the right voices. I crane my neck and, to my horror, see two middle-aged women manoeuvring bicycles along the path, towards the point where I have set a trap for the gallant group of adventurers who are due absolutely any moment now. I have no choice. Ditching my weapon, I spring up, smiling.
“Good afternoon, Ma'am! I'm sorry to intrude, but you're in the area of our live game.”
“What do you mean?” By her expression, she's expecting me to threaten her with a needle.
“It's a – a kind of orienteering thing, except we all dress up,” I say, thinking, didn't they see the players? They must be right behind them! “We have Council permission to be here, but that's the explanation for anything odd you might see.” Or the Rock Face. Five minutes walk behind them, there's a massive foam rubber puppet sitting on a cliff! “And we've set up one of our props just here on the path. Might I ask if it would be possible for you to, ah, just duck around this spot?”
“I don't think so!”
I drop back down and ram the snap-traps back into place.
They go off in my face.
"Barely forty-eight hours ago, the renowned Egyptologist Sir Stanley Pendulous was discovered dead in his study. The attending doctor certified death by heart attack but many people, including Sir Stanley, were unconvinced. His Will dictates that a séance be held, in order to determine whether he too is a victim of the infamous Curse.
Talk of a curse began shortly after Stanley's hasty return, three years ago, from a dig in the ruins of Cynopolis, near the town of el Kays in Upper Egypt. Excavation of the hitherto unknown tomb of a High Priest of Anubis was terminated by the death of his partner and son-in-law, Doctor Martin Snide, together with the expedition photographer. These deaths were said to have been occasioned by the collapse of the tomb roof in an unseasonable sandstorm. Most of the excavation records were lost, but Stanley was nonetheless able to retrieve a number of objects: a rich but empty sarcophagus, a valuable necklace, and most spectacular of all, the black sapphire that has come to be known as the Eye of Anubis. These items have remained in Stanley's keeping ever since.
Mrs Amber Valence, a medium patronised by some of the most respectable families in London society, has been engaged, and will be gazing into the Eye itself. Guests may also pay their final respects to Sir Stanley, who lies in state in the sarcophagus he retrieved. Invitations have been issued to family and friends, relevant dignitaries, members of the occult fraternity, and a number of Stanley's professional colleagues. In deference to the sad occasion, guests are asked to come in mourning or formal attire, and above all else, not to speak to the press."
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For the first time in more years than I wish to calculate, I am running a game at Sydcon. The game is a brand new freeform, titled The Eye of Anubis. As registration has now opened, below the cut you shall find the list of characters. I am taking advance reservations in order to facilitate costuming, though all reservations are provisional, pending confirmation of your place in the game.
It's escaped! I mean, it's out! Oh, anyway: Gods, Memes and Monsters: a 21st Century Bestiary is now available from Stone Skin Press.
Edited by the inestimable Heather J. Wood, it includes my entry on the Leucrotta, Jon Blum on Meme Mosquitoes and the Greater Spotted Capital, Patrick O'Duffy on the Catoblepas, Greg Stolze on the Tedious Finch, Peter Birch's Erotic Goblins and the unadulterated terror of the Stiff Mogs, as witnessed by Rupert Booth. With many, many more creatures guaranteed to unsettle the urban night and make you think twice about visiting the British Museum. Ever again, seriously.
"But then after the war... ah, I dunno, war just teaches you the real meaning of fear."
Harry Hendricks is a journalist who has never been near a war. The closest he's come was when his expose of corruption in Brisbane city was sabotaged, leaving his career in tatters. But he's getting an education all the same and his own skin is the whiteboard. In this thoroughly contemporary ghost story, you can forget about haunted houses: as Harry soon realises, he's contending with a haunted body.
"Harry moaned. The top third of his back was covered in blood. In some places deep red, in others purple and black as it started to dry. There was a tattoo underneath, but he couldn't see it through the blood...
...He wasn't doing this to himself. He knew that now. So someone or something was doing it to him."
Discovering the who and why is no straightforward task. Harry finds himself tracing a conspiracy from Afghanistan to Canberra, from motorcycle gangs to property developers, and the situation escalates quickly. Harry is no coward, but the tattoos and the alien memories they anchor expose him to a different kind of masculinity than his own, presenting a direct challenge to his already battered ego. In many ways, the real battle is for the journalist to trust in his own skills and cling to his own values in the face of ever-increasing opposition.
Brisbane's body is haunted too. Heritage sites such as the old water tower tattoo the landscape with meanings opportunistic development can only wish to erase. Community groups and local newspapers mount their defence against big money and scurrilous tactics. This battle, familiar to the residents of any Australian city, plays out beside the other, and gives the novel its rich and particular texture. Gary Kemble, once of Brisbane and still a journalist, has constructed his fiction on a foundation of recent events. It's just that, in his universe, things didn't play out in quite the same way. I have it on good authority, for instance, that Mr Kemble is not a near-alcoholic whose girlfriend has just left him.
To read the full review, go here.
“Ah! Allah have mercy!”
“Hello to you too.”
“Ouchioch! Osoronophris! Ouserrannouphthi! Do not touch me, foul ghul!”
“Now that's just rude... "
As Stephen King is wont to say, "… the difference between humour and horror is it stops being funny when it starts happening to you." (most recently, at the International Festival of Authors PEN Gala, October 24, 2013). In her latest novel, Gillian Polack shepherds us gently past the point where Fay's dreams stop being fantasy and become utterly terrifying.
Fay is a twenty-something public servant, living in Canberra, Australia. She is single, likes reading and used to play the flute, but all that is boring. So deadly dull she scarcely spares it a second thought. Fay has become adept at the mental discipline people call fantasising, daydreaming or pathworking, depending on how seriously they take it. And Fay is coming to realise that she must take her little trips to this nameless, medieval-style town with its looming castle very seriously indeed.
"This world is a construct. The reality is the street at night. There is a big moon overhead, not a sun. I'm not asleep and this is not real. So where were the lampposts and the pavement? Why am I running? And why is the grass growing?"This is a book about assumptions. About reality, for starters, but also about need, duty and happiness. Is an act that would be condemned in reality acceptable in a fantasy, when after all, no one really gets hurt? How much of a person's identity resides in their environment? From such questions, a complex and intricate narrative is spun, that interrogates the whole concept of fantasy (both the literary genre and the activity) without mercy...
"I enjoyed most of the stories here but ... My favorites were the lead-in story, "Who Looks Back," and "Last Things Last," a hard boiled tale with a tender heart. If you like Lovecraft then this is one to grab."
- the Literary Omnivore, Amazon, 1 July 2014I really think it's one of my best. And it really did all come out of bushwalking in New Zealand.
It is now official: my new Cursebreaker story, "The Mutalibeen and the Memphite Mummies" will appear in Hear Me Roar from Ticonderoga Publications. This anthology showcases speculative fiction featuring strong and active female protagonists - who in my case are also a little twisted. Congratulations to my fellow travellers, including Jenny Blackford, Stephanie Gunn, Jane Routely, Cat Sparks and Janine Webb, and to editor Liz Grzyb for pulling it all together!
I like to think that the Cursebreaker titles are fair advertising: they tell you exactly what you're in for, but not how you're going to get it. FOr that, you'll have to wait until June, although the book can be preordered at indiebooks.